We use a lot of energy in our daily lives, for heating, cooling, lighting, appliances and transportation. There are many ways to save energy and money by making a few simple changes.
- Change your non-dimmable light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescents (CFLs). CFLs come in all shapes and sizes and even many shades of the color spectrum. So you do not have to have a white glare or even use the curly bulbs. Incandescent bulbs are going to be obsolete soon, so educate your kids about how much energy CFLs save. Because CFLs have a trace of mercury in the bulb, they must be disposed of at a recycling center.
- Turn down the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees F. or 50 degrees C. If your water heater is not insulated, wrap an insulating blanket around it. If your water heater is gas, and not insulated, be sure to leave room for the air vent. Do not cover any venting pipes with a blanket.
- Arrange to have an energy audit for your home or apartment, which can be done through most utility companies or through an independent contractor. This audit will tell you where and how you are wasting energy, or areas that are lacking insulation. If you follow some of the suggestions, it is possible you can get a rebate from the utility and possibly a federal or state tax credit.
- Get a programmable thermostat for your furnace or home heating system. If your home or apartment is vacant all day, setting the heat to turn down while you are gone will save you money and energy. Also, turn the heat down at night. Adjust your air conditioner, so that it cools to a warmer temperature in the summer. Use shades to keep heat in during the winter and out during the summer. In the summer, open windows at night to let the cool night air in, then close windows and curtains to keep the house cool all day.
- Teach your kids about turning off lights and the TV when they leave a room. We are used to leaving appliances running even when we don't need them. We forget that they are drawing energy, costing us money and creating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through their energy use. When you buy an appliance, be sure it is Energy Star rated; there are ratings for everything from air conditioners to Xerox machines!
- Involve everyone in the family in using power strips. Any gadget that has a digital readout or transformer box on its power cord needs to be plugged into a power strip and then turned off when not in use. Computers, printers, DVD players, TVs, iPods, phone chargers, adding machines, coffee makers, microwaves and just about any modern device all draw power even when they are turned off. If you plug the devices into a power strip and turn it off when not in use, you can save up to 10% on your energy bill.
- Try to minimize the carbon-producing transportation patterns of your family. Do you take public transportation? Do you carpool? Do you ride bikes other than for recreation? Do you combine with neighbors for shopping trips, meetings or events? When you do have to fly, offset the carbon footprint of your trip by buying green tags. Try www.terrapass.com or www.nativeenergy.com
- Food buying patterns use energy, too. Most food travels 1,500 miles from farm to fork. See if you can find food that was not transported from far away. Many stores carry local produce from neighboring farms. Read the labels on fruits and vegetables to see where they were grown. Buy from the farmers market or Community Supported Agriculture when you can. In addition to eating local, buying in bulk cuts down on food transportation costs. Also, avoid foods that use large amounts of packaging and always take your own bag to the market, as plastic is a petroleum product.
- Water is another source of energy use; it needs to be heated for showers and washing dishes. Take shorter showers or put a shut-off valve on the shower to turn it off while soaping, shampooing or shaving. Put a water-saver nozzle on your showerhead and all faucets. Use cold water to wash your clothes and dry your clothes on a rack or a clothesline. Turn the water off when brushing your teeth, (a great way to teach kids about not wasting water) or while shaving.
- Using potable water from the hose to water lawns and plants can deplete your water supply, especially if you are in a drought region of the country.If you live in a place where you could collect rainwater, catch it in a barrel and use it for watering plants and landscaping. If you are landscaping, plant drought resistant plants using a method called xeriscaping.
Now that you have begun to think about the amount of energy you use in your home or apartment, you can calculate your carbon footprint. This is a way to figure out how much carbon dioxide you or your household put in to the atmosphere on a yearly basis. It can be calculated just for your home, or it can include driving and flying as well.
Each carbon calculator is a bit different. Calculating our carbon dioxide emissions is still a rough science in the process of being refined. In addition to the two sites mentioned above, I recommend www.b-e-f.org or www.myfootprint.com.
After calculating your carbon footprint, you can choose to offset the amount of energy your home uses by purchasing green tags. Depending on the organization you choose, you could be funding a wind farm, solar panels for schools or methane generated from dairy cow waste. Your dollars contribute to developing and purchasing renewable energy. Using your money in this way makes us all less dependent on a fossil fuel economy.